Album Amicorum in the Early Modern Period

While interning at LACMA in 2017, I came across a curious collection of 16th c. illustrations during an inventory project for special collections resources related to Costume & Textiles. This grouping of illustrations immediately struck me— one because of their small pocketbook-like size, and because of their depicted content:
preserved together in an archival box, the illustrations portrayed people and various scenes across the (mostly) upper echelons of society in Europe during the later half of the 16th century. Ascribed to each hand-colored illustration was a description for the viewer to contextualize the images:

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Venetian Courtesan, from Album Amicorum of a German Soldier, Italy, 1595. LACMA (M.91.71.1-.101)

Album/alba amicorum (also known modernly as Stammbuch), grew to popularity in German universities of the 16th century as an autograph book and friendship album between students and scholars. This is the origin of our modern yearbook tradition in primary school education in the United States, as German immigrants imported this custom in the 18th century. [1]

Moving outside of the sphere of universities in the early modern period, the album amicorum served a purpose that was not unlike our modern social media as a means of recording, and in a sense— a way of maintaining a recorded social network across Europe to gain favor and display social capital. Just like a Facebook timeline, these books took on a collaborative nature in terms of text. As Raashi Rastogi states in his essay Early Modern Alba Amicorum and Collaborative Memory: [2]

“[…] June Schlueter, the definitive authority on early modern alba amicorum, explains, the album was traditionally passed around among students and teachers at university; it would “accompany its owner on his travels or was sent by messenger to a friend, an acquaintance, a nobleman, or a king with an invitation to sign.” Each contributor would reproduce a commonplaced quotation, offering the album owner advice or a meditation on friendship, together with a short dedication, the contributor’s signature, and the date and/or location of the autograph. In his treatise on alba amicorum, Philip Melanchthon describes the friendship album as a memory-aid, designed to “remind the owners of people.”

Beyond these textual relationships and recorded sentiments, album amicorum also served as a visual travelogue for the wandering scholar, soldier, and aristocrat to preserve memories of foreign places. For us, this can help serve as a looking glass into the past when it comes to a visual aid for the purposes of historic costume. However, this is not without its flaws: album amicorum of the period often contained professionally illustrated and pre-printed “stock” characters that one would expect to see on their travels— such as the Venetian courtesan, papal figures, and nobles in various continental dress. [3] The 16th century saw the emergence and popularity of the costume book, and it was no coincidence that these two genres became interrelated and vastly popular; as Western Europe at the end of the century became invested in printed works that created visual taxonomies of people, social strata, geographical areas, and professions to neatly arrange social knowledge in a rapidly expanding world. [4]

It is hard to delineate truth versus constructed perception in these visual travel narratives, and in a way they all serve as a curious curation of the reality of the book owner. This is not dissimilar to the way in which many social media “influencers” of our current world carefully craft a visual narrative about their lives to gain social capital; posing with cars they sometimes don’t own, being seen with people they are barely acquainted with, and posting photos of places they have never been. It is likely that many album amicorum creators participated in a construction of a similar idealized account.

As an example, note the similarities of the Gentlewoman of Venice depicted in the Album Amicorum of a German Soldier with the salacious interactive engraving of a Venetian Courtesan by Ferrando Bertelli in 1563:

(Images courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Album Amicorum of a German Soldier was produced in approximately 1595, while this widely-circulated engraving by Bertelli was made in 1563 (note the same Chopine posture, overall silhouette, fan, hairstyle, and kerchief.) I suspect that this image created by the German Soldier was likely a copy of Bertelli’s work, with some liberties taken for originality’s sake.

These images of costumes (both national and international) became widely available by the mid-to-late 16th century, and would have been an easy resource for traveling scholars and courtiers to fill up the pages of their album amicorum. These images often contained exoticized stereotypes of other nations, and served as an early form of a highly problematized ethnographic survey. [5]
(Note even the visual hierarchy in Jost Amman’s Costumes of the Visual Nations of the World and how Europe is framed above the other continents (which include scenes of cannibalism)):

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Image from Jost Amman’s Costumes of the Nations of the World, 1577. Image Courtesy of the British Museum. For a full and detailed view, follow this link: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1854-1113-173

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‘Mauritana in Domestico’ From Trachtenbuch von Nurnberg (Costume Book of Nurnberg), co. CLXIII. Jost Amman (Switzerland, Zurich, active Germany 1539-1591) Germany, 1577. LACMA (Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Marvin M. Chesebro (M.87.164.3)

This image from Jost Amman’s Trachtenbuch is another example of the classification of people through printed works that came about in the late 16th century. This book contains images of people from around their known world, but with a heavy emphasis on individuals living across Europe. These costume books are heavily flawed in terms of their depiction of non-european cultures through a eurocentric and orientalized lens, so it is always best to view these sources with a heavy amount of skepticism in mind.

Keep in mind that for nearly 100 years before Amman’s Costumes of the Nations of the World Africans were being captured and enslaved by Portugal on account of their “Moorishness”, which was soon followed the enslavement of other ethnic groups. The first enslaved African Peoples were forcibly brought to the newly established colonies in North America by the English in 1619, but the slave trade was alive and well in England beginning in the 1560’s when Sir John Hawkins began his capturing of slaves with the support of elite English merchants.[6] These proto-ethnographic illustrations to classify the “other” served as a visual reminder to reinforce burgeoning ideas of white supremacy that manifested into the classifications of peoples, and the destructive scientific racism of the 17th through 20th centuries.

I am digressing here from the original topic and into the realm of the costume book, but I think it needed to be said that every source should be approached with these points of caution: what purpose does this image serve? who was the intended audience for this image? and who was the “authority” behind the image? These questions should continuously be asked when evaluating primary sources.

That being said, let us return to album amicorum.

Some of my favorite viewable album amicorum online offer up a wealth of delights:

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Album Amicorum of a German Soldier, LACMA.

Since it has been the focus of this blog article, I recommend viewing the complete Album Amicorum of a German Soldier, which is available online through this link.

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Album Amicorum of Jean le Clercq. 1576 – 1589

This Album, available for full viewing on HathiTrust is a beautiful example of an Album Amicorum being illustrated within an earlier printed work. There are many full-color illustrations throughout, including that of some delicious heraldry. (As an aside, I am very much not a fan of French styles of this period. The super-high plucked hairline, and wasp-waisted look is a bit much.)

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Venetian Courtesan peering out from behind a veil. Album Amicorum of Paul Van Dale, 1576. The Bodleian Library, Oxford University. MS. Douce d. 11

This album made by Paul Van Dale is available online through the Bodleian Library at Oxford university, and includes beautiful illustrations of people across (mainly) Italy.

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Album Amicorum of Jacob Heyblocq, 1645 – 1678. National Library of the Netherlands

This album is later than the period I am focusing on in this blog post, but it is a perfect example of an album amicorum: it contains hundreds of signatures and quotes from students and scholars of the period, with many in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It also contains beautiful pencil and ink illustrations of Jacob’s travels as well, and I am a complete sucker for 17th century landscape studies— there’s just something so distant and moody about them.

[1] https://www.kettererkunst.com/dict/album-amicorum-stammbuch-memory-book-or-friendship-book.php

[2] RASTOGI, RAASHI. “Early Modern Alba Amicorum and Collaborative Memory.” Shakespeare Studies (0582-9399) 45 (January 2017): 151–58.

[3] Keller, Vera. “Forms of Internationality: The Album Amicorum and the Popularity of John Owen.” In Forms of Association : Making Publics in Early Modern Europe, edited by Paul Yachnin and Marlene Eberhart, 220–34. University of Massachusetts, 2015.

[4] Ibid, 224.

[5] Carvalho, Larissa. “Contact, Perception and Representation of the “American Other” in Sixteenth-Century Costume Books.” in The Myth of the Enemy: Alterity, Identity, and Their Representations, edited by Irene Graziani and Maria Vittoria Spissu, 235 – 244. Edizione Minerva, 2019.

[6] Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade : The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870. Simon & Schuster, 1997.

 

Resurrecting the Blog, Pt. II.

Well, it’s certainly been awhile.

Throughout 2018 through 2019, I got very busy with finishing graduate school, scrambling to establish my new career, and dealing with heavy issues related to the terminal illness and loss of a beloved pet.

Thus my blog project took a leap onto the backburner.

To follow up on the last costuming project I blogged about during my two year absence:

Yeah, remember my 1630’s project? I finished it will little time to spare, and It came out okay-ish! I will have to say that if you’re a top-heavy person like myself, the 1630’s bodice pattern from the V&A needs a heavy amount of guesswork and modification. I think in the future I will remake the stomacher with more boning, and perhaps pad it more with a linen base. The chemise also needs some work as well, which I admit was a bit of a rushed job.

The bodice definitely needs a falling linen band and some pearls— perhaps even large sash. If I have an opportunity to wear mid-17th century again, I will definitely pursue these improvements.

Currently, I am working on slowly chipping away at a Trossfrau-inspired ensemble, starting with the Hemd. For those that are not familiar with German or the German Renaissance period in general, the hemd is their equivalent of the smock/shirt worn beneath clothes. Drafting a similar Hemd based on Katafalk’s (Cathrin Åhlén), I have managed to squeeze about 100″ of linen into a smocked redwork collar:

The hemd is 100% hand-sewn, and the linen is Burnley & Trowbridge‘s shirt weight linen which has such a lovely drape. The collar lining is stiffened with a band of their Cambric linen, and the sleeves are a current work in progress. I have made the Hemd a bit multipurpose: it is not as long as a standard women’s smock would be, as I would also like to be able to eventually fence in this while wearing menswear… Someday, when Covid-19 allows us to gather again.

The goal of my ensemble is to make a complete look that is inspired by these images:

(Basel Woman Turned to the Left by Hans Holbein the Younger: Which I admit is decidedly not Trossfrau in origin, the Wulsthaube, Hemd, and overall look is what I am aiming for.)


(Artist is unknown to me, style appears to me as likely 1510-1530)

While keeping stash-busting in mind, I plan on using some claret-brown/russet colored worsted wool for the main body of the dress, and perhaps some bright red velvet of wool felt to make the contrasting bands similar to the picture.

My last German Renaissance dress I made was about 6 years ago, and there are many things I hope I can improve upon.

Anyways, on a completely different note (and to keep the momentum going) I plan on writing about Album Amicorum in my next post!

In hope,

Sibylla de Haze (Tanya Yvette)

Buckram: Not just for books!

Continuing on with my 17th century ensemble, I did not get as much done today as I had hoped due to mechanical issues related to my sewing machine. I can say that taking apart the tension assembly, re-calibrating it, and oiling all the moving parts has seemed to fix my problem for now… But I’m afraid that my trusty machine that I’ve used—nonetheless abused—as it was the first machine I learned on for the past 14 years, is now on borrowed time.

The bodice shell I have constructed is based off of the V&A example I posted about in the prior entry, which consists of two layers of canvas, carefully placed buckram pieces, and light boning. I have chosen to use heavyweight linen, a moderate amount of boning, and full pieces of buckram on each of the two front pieces, since I need a bit more support than the average woman of the 17th century. The interior of the bodice is machine-sewn, as I have less than a week left to finish this dress, and as someone with carpal tunnel issues, I am really not fond of hand-sewing garment interiors, with the obvious exception being nicely-laid linings. I believe that sewing—especially historical sewing should be accessible and enjoyed by all, and if a machine aids that process, then great!

It is unclear whether in the original example if the bodice was designed to be worn over a set of stays, but I am of the opinion that it would have been unnecessary; as minimal as the bones are in the original example, I think that an extra set of stays would have been overkill considering the short-waisted nature of this style of bodice makes heavy modification of the torso shape unnecessary. During the later years of the 1630’s and into the 1680’s, the tight-waisted nature of the dresses had stays integrated into the bodice foundation for many of the more formal gowns, but as not many surviving examples exist, we must look to primary sources and extant examples for evidence. One such surviving dress with full-boning is the famous silver tissue dress currently housed in the Fashion Museum in Bath.

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Silver Tissue Dress, 1660 (Image credit: National Maritime Museum/ Royal Museums, Greenwich/ Fashion Museum, Bath)

As an aside, I looooove how the National Maritime Museum used this dress in an exhibition related to Samuel Pepys’ diary. Read more about that here.

Today’s progress:

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Boning channels sewn, pad stitching placed.

I have pad stitched down the front of the bodice in the empty gaps where no boning is placed; in the V&A example, there is similar pad stitching holding the buckram pieces down. But as I sewed the channels through all layers, I found that the stiffness of the buckram was fighting with the highly tensile linen layers and caused some bunching issues. The pad stitching helped tack the buckling down and turned the unsightly bubbling into an evenly distributed layer. I find myself slightly amused that this bodice—fully lined in buckram—holds the contents of the wearer in the same way that buckram used in book arts does for the contents of the book.

The bodice will be boned with extra-large cable ties, as I have found that the large cable ties and whalebone feel very similar to one another. When I first discovered this while examining original whalebone in bodices while working in museum collections, both myself and my wallet breathed a collective sigh of relief; my cheapness is period! The only caveat to zip tie boning is that I recommend replacing them every few years; plastic off-gases over time depending on environmental conditions and can discolor your fabric and anything it touches. I’ve yet to have this happen, but after working with various plastics in archives and museums, it’s amazing how synthetic materials can really do some nasty things. That being said, for costuming, I am team zip-tie all the way.

To prepare the cable ties for insertion, I recommend cutting them to length with a cheap pair of heavy duty scissors, donning a vapor mask/respirator, and sitting in a well-ventilated area (or outside if possible). Then, cut each of the corners to round out the shape, and hold the very tip of the edge over a flame. The plastic will quickly melt and soften the sharp corners and within about 15 or so seconds, it should be ready for placement within the stays!

Presto!

Tomorrow, I assemble and bind the bodice, cut and sew the silk exterior, and maybe start on the sleeves…

A Hollar-inspired dress for a grand party

Well, it has certainly been quite some time since I have last made an entry—nonetheless sewed! (Ahh, graduate school.) But as I have been approached by my boss to make and wear an ensemble for the Grand Reopening of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, as well as run a booth on early modern material culture, I naturally agreed to do so with much excitement; because geeking out over material culture is something I simply live for.
As I wanted my ensemble to reflect the early modern holdings within the Clark Library’s collection—many of which are printed matter and manuscripts from the 17th century, I naturally looked to one well-known set of bound plates that has proven indispensable for Caroline and Stuart-era costume research; Wenceslaus Hollar’s Ornatus Muliebris Anglicanus. 

A few weeks prior, I had stumbled upon this volume of plates in the stacks, and Hollar seems to follow me everywhere it seems. It was as if the the universe (or Hollar’s ghost) was screaming at me to summon up enough resolve and finally make wearable dedication to my most beloved era of costume history; the late 1630’s, as I have been yearning and meaning to do for the last few years. For the sake of this project, I have decided to not stick with a faithful reproduction of a single plate, but draw up my inspiration from these two plates in particular:

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Loving the jacket-style bodice and falling band on the left, but I also love the muted simplicity of the one on the right…

Another inspiration is this painting of Queen Henrietta Maria by an unknown artist after Van Dyck:

Copyright Warwick Shire Hall / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The lace! the pearls!

I could seriously get lost in the 17th century. But as I’ve spent most of this week stumbling about in imagery and research-ville, I had to get seriously started on this.

I have acquired 7 yards of heavyweight dark silver silk taffeta, and a few yards of look-alike bobbin lace for the falling collar:
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I am basing this bodice after the fantastic and rare 1630’s example in the V&A, and patterned out in Susan North and Jenny Tiramini’s Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns v.1:

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I am however taking some liberties: I will not be slashing the silk since most events I do are outdoors and it would be liable to snag. I am also on the fence over whether I want to have open tabs or a closed-peplum style with gores.

While the bodice itself is a simple construction of only 3 pieces (two fronts, one back) I have spent the majority of today trying to get the fitting just right—which I must say, is a hard thing to do when you’re full-figured and drafting from an extant example. I will have to draft my own stomacher (easy-peasy) as none have survived with this dress example. Maybe I will add some pearl swags in the style of Queen Henrietta…

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After 7 attempts, we have a working foundation! Hurrah!

More to come tomorrow…

Of redingotes, Costume College, and buttons.

After a long hiatus due to the demands of graduate school, I am thankfully back to sewing again (hurrah)!
I’ve also been accepted into the Early Modern Studies program at my University, where I will be honing my focus on representations of 17th century costume (double hurrah)!

And now to get back to our regularly scheduled programming:
This summer, I had planned to make a Redingote based on LACMA’s exemplary piece from their department of costume & textiles.

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LACMA’s Redingote. Ahh, 1790’s deliciousness! Squee!

For the past year, I have had the privilege of interning in their department, and working directly with the collections– of which, I must say, has been an amazing experience. Having a costuming itch for some time now to make some late 18th century attire, I was super excited after finding out that they had created a pattern for it for the Fashioning Fashion exhibition, which can be found here.

While I am only 2 or so weeks away from Costume College, i’d love to have it completed in some manner. While I am not looking to make an exact replica of the dress, the palette will be similar. Having already ordered fabric,  I settled with a golden-olive-cream striped silk taffeta for the main body of the dress, and “fretwork” muslin for the petticoat. Both were ordered from Burnley & Trowbridge, and I cannot sing enough praise for how excellent their quality and selection of fabric is.

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Figured muslin and the main silk fabric

Though this brings me to my next problem: the fabric is a mere 6.5 yards long (at 60″ w.). As a “fluffy”-bodied woman at 5’11, piecing the stripes and having enough fabric for the revers and falling collar will prove to be a challenge to say the very least. I’m a bit nervous, but I may have to resort to using a russet velvet for the collar and revers. We’ll see.

What must be done before CoCo however is a new set of 18th century stays for a riding habit pattern fitting class that will be taught by J.P. Ryan. I wanted to hand-sew the stays, but the most handsewing they are going to get is eyelets for lacing and leather binding. I modified the J.P. Ryan half-boned stays pattern to be laced in both the front and the back, since I have been (or at least trying) to lose weight. I also added more boning channels for more support.

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Very much in progress.

When the stays are completed, they will be bound in white kidskin leather, and laced with pink silk ribbon. I’d like to call them my Sweetheart, or St. Valentine’s Stays, since they will be pink, white, and red all over.

I’ve also completed some ‘death’s head’ style buttons for the redingote:

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Silk floss and a wooden shank base from again, Burnley and Trowbridge.

I’m still not sure if I want to use these, but we’ll see. I used the tutorial found Here to make them. More to come later.

Scanfest 2017 at CLU

Last weekend I had the pleasure of doing a Viking-age Scandinavian fiber arts demo at California Lutheran University’s Scanfest– a festival of as you would probably guess, is comprised of all things from the lands of the midnight sun (and Denmark, too!).

I went with my dear friends Robert and Cat, where I spent both days doing viking six-stranded braiding and some spinning on a drop spindle. For dressing for the event itself, I found myself in a quandary; years ago I had constructed an outfit for a Viking-themed wedding for two of my dearest friends, Christine and Steve. Being now of the age of 30, I have noticed the interesting phenomenon of clothing magically shrinking in my closet as the years have progressed– and especially now, since I have entered graduate school and have spent long nights being comforted by pizza and ramen noodles. Beyond the original outfit just not quite fitting right, I had adorned the yoke of the tunic with fantastical embroidery– and while it was fantastic embroidery, it had firmly established itself in the realm of fantasy viking land:

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That tunic! Yikes!

This year, I didn’t want to wear my ratty shrunken apron dress with fantasy hare motifs, I wanted to give a more realistic interpretation of a 10th century woman of the Viking era. There is very little evidence as to what actually was worn in the viking period due to limited extant garments. I based my design after some evidence in the Hedeby find, as well as the evidence presented in Hilde Thunem’s lengthy research. While the base construction is machine-sewn, I am currently in the process of hand-finishing or covering each seam with hand embroidery. As a busy student who also works, I managed to assemble my outfit in a total of 20 hours split over two days.

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The new outfit– a step in the right direction! I just have to cover all the seams with basic embroidery or trim. Also, please ignore my non-period hair… On the day prior I was wearing my hair Rus style with a head covering and temple rings, and I just didn’t quite feel like doing that again.

In a post to come, I will enumerate and reveal my documentation for making the new apron dress and tunic. But for now, I will post some photos of the event itself:

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Robert Seutter (AKA True Thomas) working his magic with the crowd.

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True and Stina Fagertun. Stina is a Saami storyteller who flies all the way from Norway each year to tell tales and sing joiks.

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Cat Ellen (Elidh Swann) giving a spinning demonstration on a great wheel. Yes, great wheels are not from the Viking era, but Cat gave an amazing demonstration of iron age to modern age fiber arts and textile construction methods. Many expats commented fondly on her great wheel, saying “My mother from _____ used to have one in her living room!”. 

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Old-timey Gnome mischief.

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A bountiful repast at the Ravens of Odin encampment.

 

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Card-woven bands on display.

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The maker at her table.

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Pilfered goods from going a-viking.

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Viking!

 

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Beautiful shield design.

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Nice amber and tablet weaving.

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Beautiful encampment nestled beneath pepper trees.

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Nyckelharpa!

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Pup.

Well, that just about concludes this post! More to come on the garment construction itself with better quality photos.

Introductions, and things

Hello world!

So, I created this blog a few years back with the goal to post things related to the history of costume, as well as history in general. I have now resurrected it hopes that I can document research, costume history, and my own costume constructions; as well as history in general to better contextualize the periods in which I am invested in.
A little about myself:

I’m a 30 year old student in UCLA’s MLIS program with a specialization in rare books and manuscripts. More specifically, I am in interested in 17th century print and material culture; especially with material related to costume history.
I have been costuming for 15 years, with a focus in historical costume construction for the past 13 years. I am an active reenactor across many periods of history– from 200 to about 1880 CE, though I find myself particularly enamored with the late renaissance through early modern period. I am a semi-active member of the SCA where you may know me as Sibylla de Haze (that’s pronounced hah-zeh for all you non-Germanic language speakers).
While I enjoy handicraft, handsewing, and constructing things according to the period; I am a firm believer in making things that make you happy. I enjoy using my sewing machine when I can, whenever I can, despite it being a modern invention. I hand-sew garments when I can, and aim to make things appear period by hand-finishing seams and hiding the sinful liberties of using a machine. Truthfully, wearing the finished product is what makes me the most happy; there is nothing quite like sliding on a garment and feeling yourself being transported back in time.